Life is full of stories and stories are nothing but life, with myriad twists and turns, says Sadat Hossain.
With 17 novels, 2 storybooks, five poetry titles and many other works, Hossain is one of the youngest contemporary Bangladeshi authors to have left a significant mark on readers in his country and among Bengali readers of Tripura, Assam, West Bengal and other parts of the world. His visits to various book fairs in Agartala, Silchar and Kolkata are often crowded with long queues of fans waiting for word on his upcoming projects or an autograph.
According to Mazharul Islam, his publisher and owner of Anyaprakash publications which published all his recent works, Hossain could be Bangladesh’s next Humayun Ahmed, one of the leading Bengali literary figures of the 20th century. He was awarded the prestigious Humayun Ahmed Sahitya Puroshkar in 2019 not to mention Chokh Sahitya Puroshkar of West Bengal besides many other awards and accolades. However, Hossain is more comfortable calling himself a storyteller than an author.
But Hossain’s journey has not always been the same and is nothing less than a story in itself. From his small village of Kayaria in the Kalkini region of Bangladesh’s Madaripur district, where he saw no electricity or newspapers or the luxury of books. “Life was different in Kayaria. It was an agricultural village. Our family didn’t have a good enough atmosphere to read different books. Graduation was used to land a good job these days. Growing up to be a writer was maybe the last thing on my bucket list,” Hossain said in an exclusive interview with indianexpress.com.
But his grandmothers came to Hossain’s rescue when he was little. They often told him fables, fantasy tales and legends – qissa as they called them. But even the thakurmaar jhuli (bag of grandma’s stories) ran out, not to mention the uneventful nights when grandma dozed off after a hard day’s work.
So Hossain started producing his own story cuts. He read half stories from his textbooks and tried to fake the other halves, cut printed Bengali alphabets from newspapers or books and rearranged them to fake his printed stories. His friends at school, college, and university often made fun of his work, but he didn’t let them deter his resolve.
“I once read a poem by a certain Sadat Hossain, a 4th standard student in a famous Bengali daily in our country. Not only was it someone named me, but he was also of the same class. I had promised that I would be published anyway. Our environment was almost polar opposite. Almost everyone worked in the fields. But I continued to work and during my post-graduate studies in anthropology, my writing bug resurfaced,” he says.
There was practically no work that Hossain did not try to fulfill his dream. He worked as a freelance photographer for wedding events and contributed as a photojournalist in a Bengali daily and publishing houses. He often asked if he could get a book published, although his interest had shifted from words to pictures for the time being. “I remember someone telling me why I wanted to be published so badly. It was really bad but I knew I had to get there. It still wasn’t working out,” Hossain said.
Self-publishing a book cost 20,000 taka or more ten years ago in Bangladesh and he didn’t have that kind of money on hand. His luck struck him in the most unlikely way when one of his clients asked him to click pictures of his clothing company for a catalog. “I used to charge around 1,000 taka for a session, but standard catalog work required more post-production labor and inputs. I asked for 25,000 and he agreed,” Hossain said.
He used the money to publish his first book, which was a photo essay publication. The next project was a collection of stories and then a novel. His very first novel, Arshinagar, was published in 2015 and became such a best-seller that he never had to look back.
Beginning with dreaming of seeing his name printed on pages and asking for favors to get a book published, Hossain has come a long way today to become one of the most popular Bengali writers of his generation among Bengali readers of different country.
Of his six titles that Anyaprakash Publications from Bangladesh brought to the 40th Agartala Book Fair, two were completely out of print and the rest sold second only to the legendary late Humayun Ahmed.
Ahmed’s works cover a wide range of subjects from fiction, non-fiction and stories of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War to those about the daily life of the middle class in his country. He has been credited as one of the people who single-handedly placed Dhaka at the center of Bengali literature apart from his contributions to music, filmmaking and teaching.
Unlike Ahmed, Hossain writes about youth, sweet old love and its pangs. His works are centered on youth, although in superimposed reflections of the surrounding society. “If he continues to write like this, he might as well become the next Humayun Ahmed,” said his publisher Mazharul Islam.
Hossain’s latest book, Priyotomo Osukh Se, published this year, is already making waves among his readers and fans. Whether Islam is right or not is up to Hossain readers and time to decide. But the author is busy telling stories on his pages, as always.